Exploring the Dolomites in Italy: An Active Family’s Dream

Thermal springs draw visitors to Merano. Photo by Olga/Adobe Stock
Thermal springs draw visitors to Merano. Photo by Olga/Adobe Stock

I have a friend who, every August, takes her family to the Dolomites in northern Italy. Having grown up outside Venice, this mountain range and its surrounding region were her playground during holidays. Although she has lived in Newport, California, for decades, her own children have been afforded the chance to spend their summers exploring the Dolomites. They’re accompanied by any of her friends, who are always welcome to come and spend all or a portion of August with them. There is nothing better than traveling with a local who knows the ins and outs, so when I had the opportunity to spend a week with them, I jumped at the chance and let them guide every aspect of my trip.

Exploring the Dolomites with Kids
The peaks and valleys of the Dolomites region offer breathtaking views at every turn. Photo by Alessandro Pacilio

Best Tips and Ideas for Exploring the Dolomites

With their breathtaking peaks, the Dolomites, or “Pale Mountains,” are part of the Italian Alps and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Here, families have two distinct options to enjoy. During the summer months, the region is a hiker’s paradise with endless trails winding through lush meadows and alongside crystal-clear mountain lakes. From November until May, the Dolomites are blanketed in snow, turning the landscape into a premier winter sports destination filled with well-groomed slopes for skiing, snowboarding and tobogganing.

Whether you opt for summer or winter, the Dolomites provide a stunning backdrop for family adventures. When planning on a visit to Italy’s northern mountains bordering Austria and Switzerland, you’ll first want to pick a home base, as the Dolomites extend more than 6,000 square miles.

Here are towns that allow families to delve deep into the Dolomites, as well as places to stay and what makes them special.

Exploring the Dolomites with Kids
The picturesque resort town of Cortina d’Ampezzo. Photo by Rechitan Sorin/Adobe Stock

Cortina d’Ampezzo

Nicknamed the “Queen of the Dolomites,” Cortina d’Ampezzo is a resort town situated halfway between Venice and Innsbruck, Austria, each about two and a half hours away. The area is rich in Ladin history (an ancient culture native to this region), featuring a number of festivals, cuisine and centuries-old churches. But Cortina d’Ampezzo is most famous as a skiing destination, having hosted the Winter Olympics in 1956. There is a variety of ski slopes here, ranging from beginner to expert runs; Tofane, which hosts World Cup ski races, is best suited for families, and the more challenging Faloria-Cristallo is best for advanced skiers.

In the summer, the vast slopes are filled with hikers, with trails also suitable for all ages. It is here that I was able to stay with friends, exploring the trails of the Via Ferrata, which translates to “iron path.” These protected climbs are fixed with steel cables, ladders, bridges and other anchoring systems to help climbers move safely through the rugged terrain. This means hikers can enjoy rock climbing without all of the equipment and treacherous work!

In August, Cortina d’Ampezzo is transformed for two weeks when it hosts the Festival of the Bands (Festa delle Bande in the local language, or Ra Fèsta de ra Bàndes in Ladin). Featuring traditional Alpine brass bands from the region parading in colorful uniforms, the hills come alive with open-air concerts, performances and parades.

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Where to Stay: Grand Hotel Savoia

One of the most prestigious hotels, just steps from a ski lift, is the Grand Hotel Savoia. During the winter, the hotel hosts a kids’ club with a dedicated space for games and programs, and the Ski Room, with its heated lockers, allow families to store skis, boots and equipment when off the slopes. A small playground is available but not needed, as the Dolomites are playground enough. Grand Hotel Savoia’s suites provide the most room for spreading out, with the Royal Suite Savoia the largest offering. This suite includes a living room with fireplace, a small dining table and a furnished terrace for taking in the views. It can accommodate up to five.

Exploring the Dolomites with Kids
The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta in Bolzano. Photo by Ingo Bartussek/Adobe Stock


A valley town located in the South Tyrol region, Bolzano serves as the capital of the province. Known for its unique blend of Italian and Austrian cultures (the town is called Bozen in German), Bolzano is also at the convergence of the Talvera and Isarco rivers, providing another picturesque backdrop with the Dolomites towering behind.

Bolzano is also rich in festivals, including the Bolzano Festival Bozen, which celebrates classical music in the summer; and the Christmas market in the wintertime. Outside its collection of hiking and biking trails are a sampling of sites to visit, including the Gothic Bolzano Cathedral, which stands prominently in the city’s skyline with its towering spire and detailed façade.

Bolzano is about 30 minutes from ski slopes such as Obereggen, part of the Val di Fiemme-Obereggen ski area, and Carezza, which caters to beginner and intermediate skiers. That said, if skiing is your reason for visiting the Dolomites, stay at a ski resort town to make it easier to hit the slopes.

Instead, visit in the summer and pop into the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology to find the Iceman, Ötzi, a well-preserved natural mummy from the Copper Age, and Runkelstein Castle, located just outside the city. The medieval castle is renowned for its well-preserved secular frescoes, but kids will be more excited about roaming an old fortress.

Where to Stay: Castel Hörtenberg

Speaking of castles, don’t pass up the opportunity to stay in a medieval castle when given the opportunity. Castel Hörtenberg, in the heart of Bolzano, dates back to the 13th century and has been restored with all the modern amenities and luxuries a parent could want while kids have the joy of sleeping in such unique surroundings. Many of the ceilings throughout the castle still feature frescoes and some rooms are outfitted with antique fireplaces. The Loft Suite, which has a living area and a king bed, is best suited for families as it can accommodate up to four.

Exploring the Dolomites with Kids
Ortisei is a premier local hub for winter sports. Photo by Arno Senoner


Nestled in the Gardena Valley in South Tyrol province, Ortisei (St. Ulrich in German and Urtijëi in Ladin) is the largest town in the area. It is a major hub for winter enthusiasts, as it is connected to the Seceda and Alpe di Siusi ski areas; the latter offers gentler slopes for beginners and cross-country skiing as it is Europe’s highest-altitude meadow, Seiser Alm. It’s part of the Dolomiti Superski collection of ski resorts, which encompasses 12 ski regions, and families have access to nearly 750 miles of ski trails on a single ski pass.

In the summer, Ortisei becomes a haven for hikers and nature lovers with numerous trails for all skill levels, including easy walks through the lush meadows that span 22 square miles. The Secada and the Rasciesa cable cars can provide easier access to high-altitude starting points for breathtaking views and scenic hikes.

Of course, being an Alpine village, the town is lined with cobblestone streets filled with shops, cafes and restaurants, including a pedestrian area in the town center. Famous for its long tradition of woodcarving, which dates back to the 17th century, it hosts woodcarving competitions during Tyrolean festivals, and you can see the craft celebrated in the local Museum Gherdëina, which also showcases Ladin culture and history.

Where to Stay: Hotel Adler Dolomiti Spa & Sport Resort

One of the most prestigious hotels in the Dolomites, Hotel Adler is situated in the pedestrian zone at the heart of Ortisei. Families can enjoy two daily guided hikes with local guides, daily guided mountain and e-bike tours, and lifts to the mountaintops at this 5-star property, then retire to a family suite, which can accommodate three to five people in a variety of configurations.

Families staying at Hotel Adler enjoy ski-in/ski-out privileges with direct lift access to Sellaronda. The hotel offers ski passes, ski lessons and maintenance, and storage of skis when off the slopes. And after a day on the mountains, parents can take to the Adler Spa for treatments, saunas and an indoor pool, while the entire family can enjoy the heated outdoor pool.

Exploring the Dolomites with Kids
Thermal springs draw visitors to Merano. Photo by Olga/Adobe Stock


Merano, or Meran in German, features a mild climate due to its lower elevation under 9,900 feet. The heart of the city retains a medieval charm with its narrow, winding alleys, arcaded walkways and vibrant market squares. Within the Old Town, families can explore Merano Cathedral, which was constructed in the 13th century; the Prince’s Castle; and the Jewish Museum.

The Merano 2000 ski area features about 25 miles of ski slopes with an array of downhill and cross-country skiing serviced by chairlifts, gondolas and T-bars. Winter or summer, the ski resort features Alpine Bob, a thrilling alpine coaster that kids won’t be able to get enough of.

A big draw to this Dolomite town is its array of spa resorts and the Therme Meran, a spa complex with 25 indoor and outdoor swimming pools that provides a range of wellness facilities, thermal pools and treatment options. In fact, all of South Tyrol is filled with natural springs and spa resorts are scattered about the mountains.

Where to Stay: La Maiena Meran Resort

If it’s relaxation you seek, La Maiena Meran Resort is a wellness and spa resort boasting indoor and outdoor pools, saunas, steam baths and treatments. As a wellness property, it also caters to families, providing a kids’ club and programs to keep children entertained while parents get their R&R. Superior Comfort Double Rooms feature bathtubs and work well for young families, while Deluxe Comfort Double Rooms provide a sitting area with a sofa bed that up to two children can share. Junior Suites provide a bit more privacy with a separate bedroom and living room with sofa bed, and larger families can book the Giardino Deluxe Suite, which can accommodate up to four children in the top-floor accommodations with balconies providing views of the mountains.

Relevant Links:

Browse all family-friendly vacation ideas and accommodations in Italy on Ciao Bambino

Best things to do in South Tyrol, Italy with kids

52 things to know before traveling to Italy with kids

10 tips for traveling to Italy with kids

Off-the-beaten-path Italy: New places to explore with kids

Essential guide to central Venice neighborhoods with kids

Visiting Venice with kids? Get off the beaten path

Editor’s Note: Lissa Poirot has been covering travel for more than a decade, including sites such as TripAdvisor, CruiseCritic, The Points Guy, Family Vacation Critic, Family Traveller and Cruise Hive. Her love of travel has led her to visit more than 43 countries and has her on a mission to see every state in the U.S. (only 4 states to go!). She has taken her kids on travel adventures since they were infants. When she’s not traveling, she’s exploring new attractions and events in New York City or Philadelphia, as she lives between both fabulous cities.

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